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Wales to enforce tough new Covid rules across hospitality industry | UK news




New restrictions on the hospitality and entertainment sectors are to come into force across Wales as the first minister, Mark Drakeford, conceded it may have been a mistake not to impose stricter curbs following the country’s “firebreak” lockdown.

Cinemas, bowling alleys and other indoor entertainment venues will close again and new rules, yet to be finalised, will be introduced for the hospitality industry.

The decision to introduce restrictions for the whole country was criticised by the Tories in Wales, who argued it was unfair to penalise areas where the rates of coronavirus are small.

Representatives of the hospitality industry expressed dismay that pubs, bars and restaurants once again faced restrictions that they claim are bound to lead to job losses and some businesses shutting permanently.

Drakeford said he could not rule out further measures before and after Christmas but that for now non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms and leisure centres would be allowed to remain open.

The first minister insisted the 17-day firebreak, which began in October, reduced Covid infection rates, but there has since been a steady rise, especially among the under-25s, and the R number could be as high as 1.4. He said the NHS in Wales was under “sustained pressure” and more than 1,700 people with coronavirus were being treated in hospital.

Drakeford said: “The problem is that post the firebreak period, as people have mixed, it has come back faster and further than we anticipated. It may have been that had we had stricter restrictions coming out of the firebreak that might have made a difference.”

Andrew RT Davies, the Conservative health spokesman in the Senedd, criticised the move. “A blanket nationwide approach is unnecessary and unfair,” he said.

Simon Wright, a founder of the Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective, said: “We’d hoped the firebreak would give us a run to Christmas. This is going to make it very difficult for thousands of people again.”

In Northern Ireland, a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown has begun in an effort to curb Covid infection rates that have remained stubbornly high and piled pressure on a creaking health system.

Pubs, restaurants, non-essential retail, gyms and close-contact services such as hairdressers and beauty salons closed on Friday until 11 December, mirroring many restrictions that will cover 99% of England’s population from next week.

Indoor household visits have been banned in Northern Ireland since 22 September. Schools remain open and pubs, restaurants and cafes can offer takeaway and delivery services.

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Philip Green’s Arcadia on brink of collapse, putting 13,000 jobs at risk | Business




Sir Philip Green’s retail empire is teetering on the brink of administration, putting 13,000 jobs at risk as months of high street shutdowns take their toll.

Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Evans, Outfit and Burton, admitted it was “working on contingency options” to secure its future after a “material impact” on sales from the coronavirus pandemic.

It is understood that the most likely option is a process known as a light-touch trading administration, in which management would retain control of the day-to-day running of the business while administrators seek buyers for all or parts of the company.

The process, currently being used by ailing retailer Debenhams, protects the business from creditors while options for its future are considered. Arcadia operates about 500 standalone stores. Administrators could be appointed as early as next week.

Responding to a Sky News report that Arcadia was set to appoint administrators from Deloitte, the company said in a statement: “The forced closure of our stores for sustained periods as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a material impact on trading across our businesses.

“As a result, the Arcadia boards have been working on a number of contingency options to secure the future of the group’s brands. The brands continue to trade and our stores will be opening again in England and the Republic of Ireland as soon as the government Covid-19 restrictions are lifted next week.”

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Arcadia has been suffering from heavy competition from new rivals such as Boohoo and Asos for some time. It follows years of underinvestment in online selling under Green’s stewardship.

In July, it announced 500 job losses at its head office as it tried to cut costs after it narrowly staved off administration in June 2019 through an agreement with creditors that involved 1,000 job losses and about 50 store closures. Early in the crisis it asked landlords for rent cuts and temporarily paused payments into its pension scheme. It has recently been searching for £30m in funding to help it through the peak trading period.

Like all fashion chains it has suffered heavily from a slowdown in spending on fashion as pubs, clubs and many workplaces have been closed for much of the year. Groups that are heavily reliant on their stores have suffered further as high street lockdowns have not been made up for by online sales.

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Digital Markets Unit: what powers will new UK tech regulator have? | Digital media




The government has unveiled its first tentative steps towards the regulation of digital monopolies, following an investigation by the competition watchdog into the digital advertising industry.

A new body, the Digital Markets Unit, will be established to lead the effort. But what it will do, what powers it will have, and who it will cover, are still unclear.

Which companies are being regulated?

Officially, the answer isn’t settled. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recommended in its review that the new regulations only cover platforms funded by digital advertising, and designated as having “strategic market status”.

It is “highly likely” that Google and Facebook will be given that status, the CMA has said, but which other companies will get drawn into the regulator’s purview is uncertain. The government has yet to decide on what would qualify a company as having strategic market status beyond requiring that it has “substantial and enduring market power”.

But the focus on digital advertising could narrow the field to just those two companies. According to eMarketer, Google and Facebook combined receiveabout two-thirds of the UK’s digital ad spending, with every other company in Britain that uses digital advertising sharing the remaining third.

What are the harms the government is trying to prevent?

As well as the potential damage to news media, the CMA’s review found other problems that it blamed on the duopoly at the top of online advertising. The lack of genuine competition “results in reduced innovation” and a “lack of consumer control” over data use, the CMA found.

It also argued that both Google and Facebook had been free to greatly increase the number of ads shown to consumers because of the lack of competition, while also “consistently earning profits well above what is required to reward investors with a fair return”.

What will the regulation cover?

The core of the regulation will be a new code of conduct to which tech monopolies will be required to adhere. The contents of that code have yet to be drawn up but the government’s intention is to “protect competition in digital markets funded by online advertising”.

Particular attention is being paid to the relationship between digital advertising and news publishing, based on last year’s Cairncross review into the future of British media. That report argued that “the behaviour of online platforms on whom news publishers rely is a key barrier to publishers developing sustainable business models online”.

What could be required?

Though the specific requirements have not yet been set, they could be very granular. The CMA, for instance, has suggested that Google might be required to share detailed information with competitors such as Bing about what users search for and which results they click on. Otherwise, it warned, the company’s monopoly might prove unassailable: Google gets more search data, which allows it to improve its searches, which means that users are less likely to switch to competitors, which means yet more data for the company.

The government has also suggested it wants this to be significantly tougher than other attempts to regulate the technology industry. It pointed to Australia’s attempt to create voluntary agreement between news publishers and big tech as evidence that the regulator needs to have the ability to force compliance.

How will online news be affected?

That depends on what the Digital Markets Unit recommends. The proposals it will examine run the gamut from broad-brush financial penalties to fine-grained tweaks at the edge of the industry. It may, for instance, look to France and Australia and impose a requirement on Facebook and Google to pay licence fees for content such as preview images, headlines or excerpts.

Alternatively, the unit might address the problem from the other end. If Facebook and Google have their access to user data curtailed, for example, then their ability to personalise advertising will take a hit. That could mean a corresponding increase in the value of advertising elsewhere, including alongside news, which would be a boost to publishers’ bottom lines.

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